Saturday, 30 May 2015

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

My Research Strategy

Always going backwards that's me, always back to the old (modern) favourites. Therefore I've realised, and not before bloody time, that this IS my research: I am probably doomed to recapitulate the same stuff over and over but slightly differently (and in slightly different media) forever, and when I finally get to build a house for us, I shall discorporate with the effort (see below post). Oh well, if the ideas are worthwhile that can't be a bad thing, even if they are now rather out of favour. Mankind doesn't change that much no matter how much it thinks it might. So, there you have it: when you read my research proposal it's basically; the history of good ideas in architecture that weren't (but are).
How did I discover this was what I was doing? Well I came across a lovely piece on Chandigarh by Peter Davey. This seemed such an unlikely conjugation I flattered myself in finding it. It's charm came from the circumstances; Peter being in Chandigarh and clearly wanting to be polite to the many Indian notaries who understood Corbu's snakes, turtles, cows, donkeys and meandering fish, and 'got' how it was all put together whilst he was madly sceptical about the ensemble himself, so Davey had to prove himself most adept at betraying his own prejudices (that L-C was beastly and impervious (amongst other things) to drips) in their midst; and he was very good at it; a tribute to his own non beastliness in fact. It was full of, 'well perhaps and perhaps not' stuff.
Indeed we have to ask ourselves how exactly do those capitol buildings (above) relate to the sacred Himalayas that are actually so far away in the distance, but perhaps I ALSO now have to revisit Davey himself. Being somebody who had a go at him long ago for managing a boring organ like the Architectural Review for so long, now I feel a twinge of revision. To my friends at the AR he's almost mythological, and now not so well, so I have all grounds to change my mind. And anybody, anybody who took six pints to interview somebody over lunch should really get the benefit of the doubt in these sad (coffee orientated) days.
Once again, we are forced to change our minds. Similarly I've just read a rather good dissertation outlining how we are all going to hell in a handbag with regard to city food supply. The answer, to all who bother to look, and once more NOT changing one's mind about good ideas, is probably a Radiant one. Let Starbucks stick that up their Unite d'habitation.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Donald Wilson RIP

About a year or so ago I found myself sitting here thinking about Donald and how he was. I even left a message on the phone of the pub next to where he and Ann lived in Sydling St Nicholas in Dorset, at least lived there in 1982, when I went and worked for him on his building site. His obituary appeared before me last night, in the RIBA Journal, when I was once more scanning for information, since his name had cropped up in a book I was browsing on Aldington Craig and Collinge, the much respected practice that Don went to work for when life as an architect/builder got too much.
Life as an architect builder was indeed horrific, and I still have vivid memories of sitting in that pub after a days building with Jackie Hall, Ann's extremely attractive daughter, both exhausted and bemoaning the state of our aching limbs and our (separate) love lives.
I'd first met Don via his son Martin, who was at school with me, and his sisters (one of whom married the PE teacher) and Ann who was the school administrator. Don lived in a converted cottage with his first wife, hanging furniture and Free records, with a workshop where Martin and I would attempt to unseize at least one moped engine. The memories, as I said, are quite vivid, for it was my first encounter with the life of an architect with a hanging cane chair and bright cushions.
That life was clearly not a bed of roses, but Don, when not exasperated, had an excellent sense of humour and infectious personality. He was even a bit of a celebrity having done 'The House of the Future' for Granada TV. He was, in short, as exotic as you are likely to get in Wilmslow, Cheshire,  pre-tabloid celeb. Since my dad was encouraging me to study architecture he took an interest in Donald's gangly influence too, driving me over there whenever the workshop beckoned. I suppose what I'm telling you here is that Don is responsible for all this, all this life in architecture, as I sit completing to proofs of 'History of Architecture Retold', I think of him, even to the point of feeling a bit emotional about it.
Later Don took a keen interest in how I was getting on, he took me around the now demolished Mechanised Letter Office in Hemel Hempstead where he was project architect, laughing at the fact that the supposed breton brut concrete had been condemned six times, and introduced me to Peter Aldington, that lovely man with the beard, in the office at Turn End. I went over to Bath University to hear a lecture by Peter Smithson, that rather odd man in a funny tie, and sat with Don in his office. By then he'd been rescued, thankfully, by academia. Then I guess I went off on my own way, and I had no further thought, excepting the occasional Christmas card, until that moment last year. Funny how things catch up with you.
When I think of what Don stood for; understanding building inside out from first principles; making his own windows, kitchens, HiFi speakers, I get some horrible perspective on where it all went horribly wrong. It would be inconceivable to teach such stuff now, much the pity. Of course when Don went out to practice what he preached, he taught us a valuable lesson, that craft hardly forestalls economics, and you are in for a good deal of pain. But he did it, nothing could stop him, and that's admirable. Indeed, he demonstrated something rather more than that, a trait that lies at the heart of all the great architects (and perhaps the value of the architectural world in general) that in some way they seem more attenuated to life's possibilities and tragedies. They bring life alive in built form.
Cheers Donald, and that's what I was going to say; a big thankyou.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Thursday, 14 May 2015


It was remarkable how quickly the ripples of dissent over last weeks election result abated. Within one day, one of my Facebook friends was commenting that the 'dust had settled', several others were clearly exasperated by my continual re-posting of provocative posts and were in the mood to get on with 'business as usual'. I found myself getting physically sick. I've noticed this before; it is clearly my psychological defence mechanism, and I have only just recovered from this latest bout to sit here and face the music.
Social media has been careful to build in dissent as an impossibility, but aren't grumpiness and dissent necessarily to be accommodated, even enjoyed? The alternative is to live in some kind of Disneyland, which, strangely, is what my local, lovingly previously referred to in this blog as The Trench of Despair turned in to this weekend. It was unfortunate the election coincided with the VE day celebrations; the place was suddenly playing forties tunes and festooned with bunting. The management even wanted staff to wear fancy dress. The ensemble looked like a UKIP after party. Nigel Farage might as well have been booked for lunch. This, within one of our more spectacular representations of 'defurbishment', ultrashabby chic, or junk shop austerity (why people like this look I have no idea, to my mind it's rather an import from Eastern Europe post 1989, when the cool bars in the old east were old fruit and vegetable shops, until the tactic caught on in Shoreditch).
Talking of the Soviet era, I heard nothing of allied rather then British victory; saw no red flags, heard no Red Army Choir, no recognition that victory over the Nazis was originally an overwhelmingly Soviet affair.
Perhaps we have become witless too, as well as Tory, but it all fits, since the reason swathes of people voted conservative at the last minute was fear, fear of jobs, mortgages and debt. It represented the crudest survival of the fittest mechanism; save yourselves! So expect more of Disneyland, for it represents an architecture of re-assurance; it's cause and effect.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Day After

The day after the election, a Tory majority, and this is what you get.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Modernist Approach to Planning

With university departments having to cut across the board, it was interesting to think today, just like Le Corbusier seventy five years ago, that modernism was simply more economical. These days architecture students have to flounder around in search of any old 'idea' which nine times out of ten turns out to be a bad one, in search of their beloved project. Give them a good dose of modernist pragmatism and all this shit would go by the wayside; you'd note that the student had either manipulated the system well, or not, and not have to ponder the myriad of versions of creativity they blindly offer with regard to 'materiality', 'floating crisp packets in the air', 'moustaches' or the significance to planning of the 'Black Exodus' all which could largely be seen as a waste of time. This of course would also cut teaching hours by at least 3/4.
We really are missing a point here.

Friday, 1 May 2015


One of the great tells of late capitalist economics becomes clear when we (or it ) turn our attention to education, where as a central imperative, it has to offer less and less for more and more.
There are so many paradoxes; the more western society advances, the less profit is made; and so the more 'education' has to be orientated to 'innovation' and latterly 'entrepreneurship' to prop up it up. What's more, the more education theoretically critiques the system itself, the more it is ineffectual as an agent of criticism (see higher education in the USA and UK).
The subject you are studying is no longer the point, at least not it's bare bones (take note all architectural students at the Bartlett or AA); as to the essential principles (long discarded as 'uninteresting' or paradoxically temporal), it is only 'innovation' in the area that is interesting to the machine. This is now couched as 'research'. If the 'research' is counterproductive to the system, it seems not to matter that much, it is still product (ineffectual), hence the volume of critical product increases (so supporting the system, or rather educational superstructure). You could call this over-thinking since any real problem has been left way behind.
Even if you are not in the slightest way interested in the processes of growth you might soon realise that as a student you are paying for a product that is busy anticipating it's own demise; that is, you are no longer learning about your subject, you are learning about capital's interest in your subject, and paying for it.
This is why Catch 22 is such a great book.